What does the greatest command hinge upon? Love. What will be the defining characteristic of followers of Jesus? Love. What will never pass away, even after faith and hope are gone? Love.
Love is the mark of the disciple. Jesus said that “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Not our Bible knowledge. Not our our fasting. Not our stance on public issues. Those things are important indeed, but according to Jesus, the defining mark of Christian discipleship is love.
Simple enough, except for the fact that this word – love – has been so overused that it no longer has much meaning. Consider how many times you’ve heard the word love today. For that matter, consider how many times you’ve used the word love today. We “love” foods, sports, celebrities, puppies, and our moms. We love movies, nature, long walks on the beach, and everything in between. We are a culture, it seems, that is in love with being in love.
As a result, to say that “love” is what marks the disciples of Jesus means very little. Not with a word as diluted as this one is. And yet when we turn to the life of Jesus as penned for us in the pages of Scripture, we see a very different definition being lived out than the one that passes for love in the world today. Christian love – the “Jesus” kind of love that would mark His disciples – ought to stand out in its uniqueness. Christian love is unique, then, at least these ways:
1. Christian love is sacrificial.
We love pizza. We love ice cream. We love this Youtuber or that one. What does our use of the word reveal about its definition? Mainly, that “love,” at least in the culture, is about receiving. We base our love for someone or something based on how they can benefit us emotionally, intellectually, or physically. In other words, “we” are at the center of our love for another party. Christian love stands against this because of its sacrificial nature.
Instead of taking from another, Christian love constantly assumes the posture of giving. Of serving. Of willingness. Sacrifice is, in fact, fundamental to the truest definition of what love is:
“Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
2. Christian love is demonstrated.
We are very free with our words. We throw them this way and that, whether in person or virtually, without giving too much consideration of their impact. Words are the cheapest of all currencies, easy to give and receive without expecting much else behind them. And yet Christian love is different. Christian love is not merely stated; it is demonstrated:
“Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
In fact, if you look back to the context of John 13, the passage in which Jesus taught us that we would be marked as His disciples by His love, you’ll see that it comes in a very visible demonstration of His own love. That the Savior and Lord of the World had bent low to wash the feet of His disciples.
3. Christian love is initiative.
Love, in many cases, is a weapon. If not a weapon, then a bargaining chip. It’s something that we hold back, waiting for another person to warrant it. It’s ironic to think that we use the word so freely and yet have the tendency to be so careful with its reality. But Christian love is different. As Christians, we don’t wait for someone to show themselves to be lovable or worthy of our love; rather, Christian love is initiative.
Christian love goes. It pursues. It seeks out. Just as Jesus did for us:
“But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
This is how we are to love. To love like Jesus. To love in a sacrificial, demonstrated, and initiative-taking kind of way. This is unique, and indeed it should be. May we be the people who are marked by this kind of love so that the world will know the Jesus whom we claim to represent.